On a field just west of Madison is a sight not much seen in the golf world lately.
Earth movers and earth-moving men are hard at work. A new golf course is being built.
Pioneer Pointe Golf Course, slated to open for play sometime in late 2021, will be the centerpiece of a new housing project being built in Middleton on the site of the former Tumbledown Trails Golf Course. Father and son developers Jeff and Kyle Haen, who also own and operate the nearby Hawks Landing Golf Club, believe Pioneer Pointe will find a niche in the busy Dane County golf market because it will be unlike any other course around.
How? For starters, it will be a 13-hole par-3 course, but not the kind of wedge and putter pitch-and-putt layout that the label might suggest. Holes will range in length from around 100 yards to a much more muscular 280 yards, a distance not even Dustin Johnson could reach with a wedge.
“For 95 percent of golfers that’s a full bag,” Kyle Haen said of the design. “It’s going to be a full bag course. We want the kids out there but I think the scratch player can really be tested on some of the holes.”
In truth, a couple of the holes are lengthy enough (the 280-yard hole plays uphill to boot) that calling them par 3s is a stretch.
“We had some internal discussion that it almost has to be a par 4,” Kyle Haen said, and by the time Pioneer Pointe opens for play next September the scorecard might reflect that.
Still, why 13? Credit Madison PGA pro Jerry Kelly, whose lucky number is 13 and whose golf bag carries a prominent 13. Kelly is Kyle Haen’s uncle and has taken such an interest in the project that he has walked the site several times and made recommendations on green designs. There’s even an outside chance that Kelly will design a new finishing hole that would replace the current design’s 13th hole, which would then become a bonus or bet-settling hole.
The odd number of holes is in keeping with a trend in course design these days that says nine and 18 are just numbers, not rules. The Sandbox par-3 course at Sand Valley Golf Resort is 17 holes, while Andy North is helping Trappers Turn Golf Course in Wisconsin Dells create a 12-hole par-3 course. The short course can be played in much less time than a conventional 18-hole course and offers chances for families and couples to play together, Kyle Haen said. Early in their planning the Haens debated whether to build a conventional nine-hole course “or 13 really cool par 3s.”
Thirteen it was.
“That’s what we’re kind of excited about, too. People are getting creative about the game of golf. It’s an opportunity that we’re really excited about and we have all the confidence in the world people are going to (embrace) it,” he said.
Kyle Haen said he does not like to use the word replica to describe the course but admits that the design firm of Lohmann Quitno used the templates of some rather famous golf holes in laying out Pioneer Pointe. One hole will bring to mind the seventh at Pebble Beach, while another resembles the famous “boxcar” hole at Lawsonia's Links Course. Inspiration also came from the Road Hole at St. Andrew’s, the sixth hole at Riviera Country Club and others.
There will be something of a design-your-own-course opportunity as well. The course will not have traditional tee boxes but rather players will find generously sized teeing areas that will allow for different approaches to each green. When families play, experienced golfers can play from the back of the teeing area while kids and less experienced players can move forward and play the same, but shorter, hole. Or, players could play the course from back of the teeing area on one occasion and more forward spots on another, which will give the feeling of a different golf course.
“The opportunity here to have a 50-yard shot rather than having a 150-yard or 160-yard shot is kind of cool,” Kyle Haen said.
Greens also have different personalities, one a dramatic Biarritz with a deep swale in the middle, another with a sand bunker smack in the middle and others with their own distinctive designs. There are also a number of large bunkers not typical of pitch-and-putt courses, including a deep, yawning Lion’s Mouth bunker guarding the sixth green.
“No two holes are the same,” Kyle Haen said. “A putt on the first hole will not be like a putt on the second hole or third hole.”
“It’s not your typical par-3 course,” his dad added. “There’s probably three or four holes out here if you play them back it could be a par 4. Play the right distance when you tee off and you’ll thoroughly enjoy it.”
The greens will have so much undulation that Neil Radatz, the superintendent at Hawks Landing who will also oversee Pioneer Pointe, will have to guard against getting them too fast for average players.
At least initially the course will be open to the public. Kyle Haen estimates green fees will be in the $39-40 range with cart but some details remain to be worked out before play begins next September. He said the shorter course and shorter time required to play could help attract some of the players who took up golf or came back to the game during the 2020 pandemic. It’s family-friendly length may also appeal to “lots of different age groups, a range of golf skills.”
“We’re obviously a little biased,” Kyle Haen said, “but we can’t wait.”